Stairway to Heaven – Haiku Trail – Moanalua Valley Park
This blog is great to help you find the right path to the Stairway to Heaven trail. I did read this early on in the planning on my trip (2 months prior) but I never referred to it again which was my mistake. Tripadvisor also has updated reviews.
If you have the time, download the Alltrails map app to your phone which will help you find the trails.
We decided to go the legal route up to Haiku – Stairway to Heaven via Moanalua Valley Park. You want to park at 1849 Ala Aolani St, Honolulu – Moanalua Valley Trail. There is a parking lot that opens at 7AM and closes at 7PM with water fountains, faucets and washrooms. If you think you will start before or end after 7AM or 7PM, you can park on the street in the neighbourhood. You start off by seeing a gate and signs – go through that gate and down the path you go. There are more signs and a foot brush station – indication you are going the right way. The path is flat and goes on for quite some time and you pass roughly 6 bridges. If it has rained the path will be muddy and there are markings to lead you through the forest to climb over a few trees to pass this huge muddy pool.
Once you get to the end of that flat part, the terrain slowly shifts and eventually you will see pink or organ ribbons attached to trees to help mark the trail. You will arrive at a group of signs where it looks like it is a fork in the road. This is before you start the actual trails to go up. If you are looking for the route up to Stairway to Heaven – LOOK FOR THE GREEN ARROW/MARKINGS. You will have to cross the river BUT only once. To the right of the cluster of signs, you will see a less maintained path with loads of palms – but if you turn that way, there is a little path not too far in that will be on the left that leads you to the river – if you can cross here, it will lead you to the path to Middle ridge (on the other side of the river, turn right. You will know if you are going the right way by seeing the curved tree branch that has Middle Ridge carved into it with a green spray painted H beside it. Then it is a elevated path going upwards. The path will get narrow and depending on weather, winds can pick up and and rain makes it slippery. There will be areas that it will be really narrow and there will be ropes to aid in your ascend.
If you do decide to cross the river straight past the signs, you need to veer right immediately once you have crossed the river bed and then you will see the Middle Ridge branch. REMEMBER TO FOLLOW THE GREEN Spray painted markers.
We made the mistake of not fully researching to know exactly where to go before we went which made for a unpleasant surprise. We crossed the river multiple times with another family and a couple. We did indeed follow the pink and orange ribbons but when we finally arrived at the top of the ridge, we thought we just had a pitstop before continuing. It turned out we climbed the ridge east of the Middle Ridge that led to Stairway to Heaven with no clear or safe way to get to the correct ridge from that height. To even make it to the top of that ridge, you will have ropes to help you up and down. It gets super muddy, slippery and windy up top. Don’t go if its’ rained a lot to watch out for flash floods where the paths through the rivers would be unseen.
What really sucked for us is that this took us awhile to climb/hike up and knowing the fact we didn’t actually get to see the stairways dampened out spirits as we had to descend the ridge with the ropes we just got up from. We did have to wait for the other family to make it up as the ridge is narrow and meant for a single person at a time. Especially with my injury, super hard to bomb it down and I literally was backtracking my steps going backwards down the ridge. We eventually made it back down to the start in which I mentioned the sign.
We bumped into another group who were just starting their hike. We (the couple, the new group and my friends) all tried looking for the right trail. At the sign, we decided to walk the trail that had palms but it looked very unmaintained as we started to walk further in. The couple had the all trails map and it also said we were veering off the trail. We turned back and finally noticed the little tape marker that said Middle ridge. Once again, from the main grouping of signs, you can either veer right before crossing the river and then the first left to cross the river is where you want to go then once you have cross the river, you will see the curved branch that says middle ridge on it. If you do decide to go straight past the sign and cross the river, you need to turn right immediately to see the curved branch. Our hike took roughly 6-7 hours to finish and at that point, we wanted to go the correct path up but at the same time, another 6-7 hour seemed daunting. We said goodbye to our new friends and left as we did have reservations for a luau that night. They did exchange numbers with one of the guys who planned on going the illegal route up the following morning.
I think also the fact that immediately once you see the middle ridge curved branch, the climb starts steep and muddy.
All dirty, we made a pitstop at Foodland on the way home to grab some food. We all took showers and then travelled to the west shore for our Luau at Paradise Cove. Free parking. It’s located in the same area as the West coast resorts but still quite lovely. We got lei’d with a shell lei (more so to decipher which group you were with). The luau was on was a decent sized property right on the beachfront with a wedding taking place a field over (music there overpowered at certain points). There is a beach access point from here for public and Paradise Cove use as it was in a resort area.
The seating / dinner tables are long family style tables and we were seated to the right of the stage far back. We reserved the basic package for $90USD. We met a wonderful mother & daughter who were meeting in Hawaii as it was their middle point. The daughter is stationed in Guam and the mother lives in California.
The site has many activities you can do before the dinner and show start. We of course lined up to get our temporary tattoos drawn on us then we lined up to get flower crowns and bracelets made. Remember, if you are wearing any flowers in your hair; wear it on your right side to signify you are single – left if you are married/taken and on both sides if you want to start something new ;).
The performances were pretty good but I feel for me, I was comparing it to my previous visit to the island and Polynesian Cultural Centre. The centre requires you to spend at least half the day to absorb everything and you get to visit the different “islands” and learn about each culture a bit more. They also have a river parade where each island is represents in their costumes and they dance on the floats.
After a late night coming in, we slept in a bit and decided to take out 1 beach visit from our itinerary. Our plan was to travel to the North shore for beaches and food. We drove to the very top to Ted’s Bakery for breakfast and their famous Haupia Pie. I ordered the Loco Moco mini $8.87USD which was still large for my standards.
Our first beach that we went to was Sunset beach. Parking spots are on the side of the road. We hung out in the water and on the beach for awhile until the rain came down. The rain kept going in and out that day.
After the rain fall became too steady at Sunset Beach, we hopped back in the car and went back down the road a bit to Foodland to grab food and luckily the Coffee Bean had my favourite – Bubbies – Ice Cream Mochi. Across the road was Pūpūkea Beach Park – Shark’s Cove. We didn’t end up staying in this area but it is a mention worthy view to see.
I had visited Waimea Beach in my previous visit to Oahu but we decided to skip it as there were droves of people there and parking looked full. Waimea is known for their jump rock which you can view on the drive to and from North shore and south to Waikiki. Our next stop was Laniakea Beach. Laniakea Beach is the beach in which you need to park on the inner side of the road and cross traffic to get to the beach. It is also known for turtles. We saw one. The traffic was incredibly built up around this area and finding parking was difficult. Also, be warned that the spots also lower from the main road and there is a good chance you will scratch the bottom of your rental car depending on the spot. It also started to rain again as we made this pitstop so our stay wasn’t long. Our drive to Haleiwa gave us views of full rainbows.
Haleiwa is such a cute little town that has everything you need but I mainly know it for the food spots. In Hawaiian culture, w’s are pronounced as v’s so Haleiwa is pronounced ha-leh-ee-vah. Our first stop was to the famous shrimp truck called Giovanni’s Shrimp truck. NOTE: This is the second location – the Northeast shore location is much better and less crowded. There is a parking lot but it does get crowded. Giovanni’s is only opened to a certain time so we made sure that would be our first stop. Renee & Lulu ordered and we waited for about 20-30 minutes. There are plenty of picnic tables to eat at but we took it to go and onward to our next feat – the line for Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice. This is the same location as previous but they have done a big remodel. The line was long but well worth it as I ordered a small for $3USD (3 flavours) lilikoi, pineapple and yuzu with the addition of mochi for $1. The yuzu was my favourite.
We had passed the Dole Plantation on our drive up to the North shore and thought maybe we had time to stop by the gift shop on the way back to get pineapple soft serve however they close at 530PM and we were in line at Giovanni’s around that time. We drove back to Waikiki and walked over to the International Centre and went to the Marketplace – Mitsuwaya to grab some food. I ordered from MODO – mochi donuts. I picked up 3 flavours and they are little balls of mochi really that attach to one another and easy to pull apart to eat. Rather light in doughiness and not too intense flavouring. Strawberry and the Earl Grey were my favourites. We ended up going downstairs to The Street Food Hall for dinner. I ordered the Kailua Sunrise bowl (Baby kale, Quinoa, sunflower butter, roasted purple sweet potato, pomegranate dressing) $14.99USD from Indie Girl and I have to say I was defeated by a bowl of greens and salted sweet potato.
My leg had been in pain and swollen (no resting really) and seemed to have gotten worse as the trip went on. Renee who is a chiro had been working on my leg during the trip and in the span of the first 3-4 days, I had developed jumpers knee and possibly meniscus irritation. I had to drop by Longs Drugs to pick up a patella band and athletic tape as well as a ice pack. (NOTE: When I returned to Toronto, my Chiro gave me a full diagnosis and the knee pain I was experiencing was from overcompensation from over pronation trying to avoid pain as a walked. What this really meant was my alignment was way off causing my knee to have pains from not walking properly with my knee rotated inwards as I walked to avoid pain and messing up my alignment.
For those Terrace House fans, i stopped by 88tees in hopes I would see Avian from Terrace House. I first started at the 88tees on Kuhio but her swimwear line ILA swim was at the other location on the main strip that you have to go up the stairwell to get to. Alas, she wasn’t there. After checking social media, I found out that majority of the people from Terrace House Aloha State were together in Japan. Not meant to be. I also loosely was trying to see if I could spot some Terrace House people when I was in Japan but they were vice versa and in Hawaii during the time I was in Japan.
Our second full day in Maui, we tackled Iao Valley (opens 7AM-6PM) for our first hike of the day. $5USD for parking. After we parked, a gentleman came up to us and started talking to us as he had just finished his hike for the morning. He mentioned to us about the trail at the top of the hill behind the hut closest to the needle. Fun fact, the needle is taller than the Eiffel Tower. There is a sign that says do not pass but that is where you continue past and start your way going up. The path was relatively dry (until you get higher up – also if it hasn’t been raining) and it is narrow in certain spots with low hanging branches and some prickly twigs. There are sections of elevation and some downhill. I’m unsure of how long it took us to climb but the hike is well worth it for that view. You definitely travel away from the needle but you travel inward towards a lookout point that is in the centre of the valley. There are other trails that you can take to get down but for us, we took the same way we came up from. Not sure if it was timing or not, but we only interacted with another group of 3-4 at the top and maybe one other group on our way up and down so it’s a hidden little gem for those who want to take on the hike.
After that view, there was no need for us to venture down to the river so we continued on into town. We found ourselves at a coffee shop called Wailuku Coffee Company. I love to support locally sourced and made product when I travel so this place was perfect. I follow Roxy Surfer and model Kelia Moniz who had recently posted about this all natural organic suncream which was locally made in Hawaii by Kuleana Sun Protection and this coffee shop was selling them – small tin $12USD and 2.5OZ for $20USD. I also picked up a bag of fresh local roasted coffee beans for my father. They also have a fun staff who has good taste in music.
Originally, I wanted to goto Sam Sato’s for lunch however it was closed that day, so we ended up going to McDonalds. Especially in the states, I love getting 20 McNuggets because it’s so much cheaper than buying it in Canada and also exclusive to the islands – taro pie. The pie is so good!
After lunch, we drove an hour to Haleakalā National Park. You will see the sign for the road that leads you up to Haleakala and just continue to take this road. There are no lights on this road and at certain points, it hits residential. We went from 2000 feet to 10000 feet and along with that the temperature dropped a significant 20 degrees the further we went up. Luckily we have the annual national park pass. The road up has markers for 1000 feet elevations and as you get higher, you literally are driving in the clouds and then above the clouds. The roads are not as narrow and bendy as the Road to Hana but surely it is still a trek up. There is a sign that marks the last gas station before starting the trek up. We first stopped at the visitor center where we asked the ranger what ideally we should hike as we arrived to that visitor site at 230PM. She recommended we drive up to the last trail before the summit and try to hike as much as we could before making our way to the summit for sunset. Sunset was called for 715PM. We parked at the last trail before the summit and the view is beautiful. The crater looks out of this world. We mistakenly took the path that led you up the hill to a lookout point and made our own path down to the right trail (do not do this – stick to the paths).
Up that high, with the sun beaming, it makes it incredibly hot but once that sun starts to hide behind clouds, the temperature dips. Make sure to layer and bring clothing to keep warm. Wind makes it even chillier, so remember even though you are in Hawaii with average of 30 degrees C + humidity, 10023ft high will significantly be colder.
We walked the trail down into the crater and with the angle of the trails, the momentum just easily takes you down the trail. We made it to a certain point that overlooks the crater which a trail that keeps dipping lower but we decided to turn back to find a good parking spot up at the top of the summit. The hike back up was more difficult. Definitely recommend walking in zigzags to alleviate pain on the legs and work other muscles. We made it back to our car and followed the path up to the top. There is an observatory area that overlooks the crater where you can stay warm and where many would watch the sunrise from, However, for us, the sun sets on the opposite side of where the observatory is located. Being 10023ft up, the winds are strong and the temperature drops. We found the perfect spot for sunset. Along the top ridge overlooking the island below, there are lava rocks that jolt out on an angle that looks like a cave – that is where we planted ourselves. You should also bring something to sit on or grab one of the larger rocks to create a seat as you watch the magic of the sun setting and the changing formation of clouds dance which form shapes and figures. We claimed our spot in our “caves” rather early (around 6PM) and watched as everything shifted.
Once 7PM hit, everything went fast and the wonderful colours that appeared were pretty indescribable and I’m not sure if the photos will do it justice. Once that sun fully dipped, we bolted back to the car and drove back down. Luckily the roads here are lined with those reflectors on the ground. My original plan was to stay for sunset and then star gaze but we were chilled to the bone. Our GPS took us the back root to get back to our Airbnb in Kihei. We arrived back to the main level of the island and the temperature shift changed drastically 20 degrees. We peeled off our layers and back into shorts and tank tops.
Finished off our night eating dinner at Paia Fish Market – South Kihei. I got the Ahi burger with fries and an Maui Brewing Pineapple Mana Wheat beer $18USD. You order inside but you seat yourself and they will bring the food to you.
Our final full day in Maui started with us waking up and packing our luggage. Our flight wasn’t until the evening at 11PM to Oahu. We decided today would be a beach day. We made our first stop to wowwowlemonade where I got myself a Da Kine Acai bowl (organic acas, banana, organic blueberry, strawberry and coconut milk topped with granola, banana, strawberry, cacao nibs, organic hemp, organic coconut shreds, local honey and raw cacao custard) – $10.50USD. The girls got Lemonades in their reusable glass containers.
After getting our morning fix, we drove south to Ahihi-Kinau Natural Reserve. The drive down takes you through the resort area and higher end hotels where it is truly manicured. When I say manicured, I mean the grass and palm trees are pristine. All I knew going in was that Ahihi-Kinau was recommended as one of the best places to snorkel and see turtles however I didn’t research to see if it was also a place to spend the day at the beach. The beach is a rock beach so not a comfortable place to spend the day laying out. Parking is free and there are volunteers that will gladly inform you of what and where to go and what to do and see as it is a reserve.
We didn’t bring our snorkelling gear with us but we did walk down to the black rock beach for a little bit. On the same road we drove down, we went to check out Makena Beach – Big beach – free parking. Makena Beach is one of the most photographed beaches on the island. When we arrived, the beach wasn’t packed but had lifeguards on duty. The waves there are intense – super intense. The waves crash closer to shore and the current pulls you back in. The waves also crash and somehow also goes sideways. The sand is soft and the views of the waves are very entertaining. After we situated, Lulu and myself walked right of the beach entry and walked to the mountainside and climbed up to see what else was there. We made our way to the coast and watched a few people fish and on the other side of the mountainside was a smaller beach which is known as Baby beach also known as the Nude beach. It’s been said that each month on the full moon there are drum circles on that beach.
Since we didn’t quite want to venture Baby beach, we walked back and continued to the other side of the beach closer to the Ahihi-Kinau. That side wasn’t as nice as It was just black lava rocks however it has a cute area with large branches and a funky little cave. NOTE: Don’t climb things if you don’t need to and aren’t even doing it for a photo. I climbed the rounded tree and decided to lie down but automatically body weight had me falling over so my arm and back just slightly scraped up.
We left the beach around noon and headed north to Sam Sato’s Inc for lunch. Sam Sato’s has been around for so many decades. Of course, there was a waiting list in which you need to put down your name and number of people. You end up sitting in their courtyard until they are ready. The actual establishment is very diner like and simple. The most popular dish was the dry saimin noodles that comes with soup broth on the side. Saimin are a fresh yet thicker version of shanghai noodles served with fresh onion and bbq pork. I got myself a large dry saimin noodle $8.25USD & a lima manju $0.80USD which is a little Chinese dense pastry.
Since we were in the area again, we drove to Hookipia beach to see if there were turtles as Herbie had mentioned he went around 230PM and there were a load of turtles settled on the beach. It was indeed the perfect time to goto Hookipia Beach. There is an area in the corner of the beach that is restricted for people where the turtle set themselves up on the beach and lay out. This time around, there were loads of them. We stayed here to swim. You can actually get closer to the turtles when you are in the water. You SHOULD NOT TOUCH the turtles however, when you are in the water, they will swim right pass you. There were a few that would start to swim back into the ocean and literally swat/hit you at they push by.
We stayed at this beach until 530PM. Lulu and Renee at a certain point went off to go workout at a local gym. When you are up at the top lookout parking lot, if you go further right down the path away from the beach, there is an opening to go down to lava rocks where it was intense winds.
We ended up going to Walmart to pick up snacks and then to Foodland for dinner. I grabbed the Ahi sashimi plate $18.75USD. After eating in the car, we drove back to the car rental and off to the airport we went. Hawaiian Airlines to Oahu at 11PM. Stomach started to feel off and painful like it had the past few days but this time, it hit me harder. I might’ve been tanned but i was pale that night. Still unsure if it was food poisoning prior to my trip or if my stomach was weak from all the raw seafood I had been eating prior and during the trip. Who knows.
We arrived in Oahu and went to go pick up our car rental from Enterprise but we couldn’t. NOTE: car rental places close by 1130PM-midnight. Enterprise was closed. Trouble. We met an awesome employee who recommended we goto National and see if we could rent a car from them since they were the only ones still open. They honoured our car rental and we got upgraded to an SUV and we named it Fernando. We rented an Airbnb in Waikiki and our host was very accommodating and waited for us to get in. Our Airbnb is rather close to everything and directly across from the International Marketplace but most importantly, very close to Marukame Udon.
Travel day. This was probably not the best time to go on vacation as school had just finished and it was long weekend – Canada Day long weekend. The airport was rather full and our plane ride to Hawaii (10 hours in total) was also quite full as families were going on vacation. We flew Westjet to LAX for a stopover then with Delta to our final destination – Maui. We got our car rental from Enterprise – an Elantra that we named Frankie. The car rental is off the airport property and requires a bus shuttle to take you to it.
First stop before making it to our accommodation – Foodland. Foodland is one of the grocery chains with one big specialty – Poke. I grabbed wasabi poke & a chicken musubi for dinner. Time change wasn’t hitting too hard and timing wise, my friends – Herbie & Elvia were in Maui as well in nearby rental down the block so we went to meet up with them.
Road to Hana
The infamous Road to Hana drive is something one should attempt while on Maui. We decided to start our trip in reverse. We drove all the way through the Road to Hana past the town of Hana as this is probably the most time consuming and requires so much focus and light to drive. It is a 1-lane in each direction with tons of turns with occasional 1 car only bridges. The speed limit isn’t very high as you have turn after turn. Sometimes, it makes it easier to pull over to the side to let the locals pass if you happen to have people tailing you. Tiffany was our driver for this epic drive. Not going to lie, there were points during the drive I got a little dizzy but it passes. Our first stop at the very end past Hana was Pipiwai Trail which is apart of Haleakala National Park. Good thing Lulu was able to grab her brothers annual USA state parks pass as we save money for park entry fees. It would have been $25USD.
We did the Pipipwai Trail (which features a Bamboo forest) to Waimoku Falls then finished off at Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o before hitting the road again. It was highly recommended to download the Gypsy Guide and purchase the Road to Hana tour guide as they tell you about the history of Hawaii plus they tell you about places you should check out. After our hike through Pipiwai Trail, we followed the route back and with the helpful tip from the Gypsy Guide app, we found ourselves at Koki and Hamoa Beach before making our way to find lunch.
I had originally read that Braddah Hutts was a great place to eat but it unfortunately wasn’t open so we ended up going down the road to the food trucks – Da Fish Shack, Troys and a unnamed truck. I went with the unnamed truck and got the Coconut crusted Ono with garlic shrimp, mac salad and corn $16USD. The girls grabbed fresh fruit from the fruit stand which was cut up for them to eat on the go.
After lunch we went to Waianapanapa State Park. It’s free parking. We walked down to the Black sand beach. Once you get down the stairs, just to the right of the stairs, you will find the entrance to the cave (it’s not very large but it’s a interesting view from inside. If you continue down the beach, you can walk up and see the blowhole (try not to walk onto the wet rocks – indication of where the blowhole well blows). Tiffany was following the crabs and ended up a little too close for comfort by the blowhole. You can continue walking along the path to see the lava rocks. We ventured for a bit but we weren’t quite sure where it was leading to and it was getting really hot so we turned around and situated ourselves on the black sand beach.
We stayed at black sand beach for a little before deciding to head back on the road back towards Paia. The Road to Hana app was very resourceful on the drive back but we tried not to stop so we could make it to Hookipia Lookout to spot turtles. Herbie had mentioned that he arrived at Hookipia Beach around 230PM and there was a few dozen of turtles laying on the beach. When we arrived in the late afternoon, we had only spotted maybe 3 turtles.
The best view of the turtles on the beach was actually from above nearby the carpark. We went past the fenced area and onto the tall grassy area – be careful as this area is a cliff and make sure you are stepping onto solid ground. After watching the turtles lay on the beach and some surfing in the distance, we drove through Paia to find food. We wanted to eat at Paia Fish Market but it was way too busy. We walked across the street to Ululani Shave Ice for shaved ice. I got the Ulu (medium) with azuki red bean base with 3 flavours (Melona, Li HIng Mui & Guava) $5.50USD.
Since we were in that area of town, we decided to have dinner at Poi by the Pound for more traditional Hawaiian cuisine. I order the Lau Lau Plate $12.95USD (pork, wrappers in taro leaves, lightly flavoured with Hawaiian soft and slow steamed to perfection served with rice, poi, lomi salmon & salad). Poi is a unusual food to eat if you aren’t use to it. Poi is this purple paste. It is a Hawaiian dish made from the fermented root of the taro, which has been baked and pounded to a paste. It is usually served cold and you mix a little bit with meat to give you an interesting texture and flavour. Tiffany had the most unusual dish of poi with poke that is served separately then you mix them together – unusual but not bad.